#TalkingTexts: Macbeth

Good morning!

I’m not pretending I’ll be able to do this every week for #TalkingTexts, however, this week I wanted to share a few of the highlights from last night’s chat, as it was the very first chat. It overran (in fact, as I write this, there are still comments coming in!), and I didn’t see everything, but what I did see was amazing! It is truly inspiring to have so much knowledge and so many thoughtful opinions from so many teachers available on this platform. Thank you to everyone who got involved.

Here were the original questions:

  1. When studying Macbeth, what are the most important contextual factors which we need to be aware of? (Social and historical)
  2. What (or who) has the greatest influence on Macbeth’s actions?
  3. ‘Macbeth is a ‘real’ tragedy because he was once virtuous.’ How far do you agree?
  4. Deception, ambition and kingship are all key themes in Macbeth. Which do you think is the most important and why?
  5. What are the best resources, websites, texts, etc. for us to learn more about Macbeth?

And here are some of the ideas that I learned/found thought provoking/interesting:

(Sorry, I scribbled these down, I can’t reference people specifically as I’m not sure where/who many of these ideas came from!)

Context:

  • Do we need to know more about madness and mental illness in Jacobean period? We apply too much modern knowledge of how the brain works to explain Lady Macbeth’s illness at the end of the play. This could have been seen as being ‘possessed’.
  • We need to consider how common regicide actually was in Jacobean times (and their recent history). E.g. The two young princes killed in the tower.
  • Macbeth set in a time where crown often ‘won’, rather than inherited.
  • Many people suggesting more research into Malleus Maleficarum and Daemonologie books, to understand ideas about witches.
  • James I and Banquo relationship – James I explicitly referenced as a descendant in the line of kings shown to Macbeth in Act 4.
  • Links between powerful women and Elizabeth I.

Macbeth:

  • Is his indecision a pretense? It takes less than 50 lines for him to be persuaded.
  • Macbeth as Machiavellian; he is more interested in the ends than the means.
  • Is Macbeth aroused by Lady Macbeth as a strong female figure? E.g. in the line ‘bring forth men children only’.
  • Is his blind hubris at the end admirable? He still wants to die with his sword in his hand.
  • Were all of Macbeth’s tyrannical tenancies just waiting to be unlocked, and the witches sense this in him?

Lady Macbeth:

  • Is a large part of her madness due to Macbeth’s rejection and abandonment? Reducing her to weaker female figure, whose strength was drawn almost entirely from a man?
  • Did it actually take more to convince Lady Macbeth to carry out the plot? She summons supernatural, and Macbeth is convinced by words alone.
  • Is she a fourth witch? (Controversial)
  • My favourite comment: is Lady Macbeth representative of the idea that strong women are unnatural, and should be feared?
  • Did Lady Macbeth just know how to prick Macbeth’s natural cowardice?
  • Is the overarching message in the play not about loyalty to the monarch, but rather a warning to women? (Strong females are dangerous, and will end up succumbing to insanity?)
  • Does she ultimately receive greater punishment for her ambition? (Possibly because she is female?)

Banquo:

  • He seems as interested in the prophecies as Macbeth, but the key difference is his loyalty. See quote: ‘never beg nor fear thy favours’.
  • Does Banquo try to call the witches’ bluff and out them as devil worshipers?

Duncan:

  • His hamartia is his trust.
  • Presented as very naive, considering how last Thane of Cawdor also betrayed him.

Further resources to consult/use:

 

More to come as I review more comments… Hopefully some of these questions/issues can be lifted and used as classroom discussion points.

Teaching Q5 (AQA, GCSE English Language, Paper 1)

Firstly: there will be two options for this question. You could be asked to write a descriptive or a narrative piece. You should bear in mind that both questions could be descriptive, or both narrative, or one of each. This means that you must be prepared to answer either. You have 45 minutes; use five of these to plan.

What does the mark scheme say?

AO5 Content and Organisation
Communicate clearly, effectively and imaginatively, selecting and adapting tone, style and register for different forms, purposes and audiences. Organise information and ideas, using structural and grammatical features to support coherence and cohesion of texts.

 AO6 Technical Accuracy
Candidates must use a range of vocabulary and sentence structures for clarity, purpose and effect, with accurate spelling and punctuation.

What are the main features of narrative and descriptive writing?

Narrative Descriptive
•Recounts an event (tells a story)

•Will contain description

•May include dialogue

•Has the structure of a story

•At least one developed character

•Structure using ‘a day in the life’, ‘a tale of two halves’, or by beginning at the end

•Most likely a third person perspective

•Show don’t tell

•Focus on images, not events

•You must show all five senses

•Focus on details

•Use structural focus shifts: begin with a panoramic view, zoom and shift, ending with panoramic view again.

 

Advice for both:

  • focus on the small: one minor event in the narrative, and zooming into small features in the description;
  • make sure that you are using a structure that is appropriate for the purpose of the writing;
  • vary your sentence openers: try to use -ing verb and -ly adverbs to open your sentences;
  • when using exciting adjectives and adverbs, check that your noun and verb choices complement these;
  • revise the spelling of a few really impressive items of vocabulary, in case you have the opportunity to use them in the exam;
  • use sensory language as much as possible;
  • and vary your sentence and paragraph lengths.

If you find yourself extremely stuck, use the source for inspiration. You can mirror the structure.

THBT Debating is Everything.

In my current school, students are trained in formal debating from Year 7. In terms of group work, I believe that it is the single most powerful activity that we can facilitate for our students. 

How does it work?

We loosely follow the rules set out by the Oxford Union, which can be found here.

The first thing you need is a motion. A motion looks like this: THW ban animal testing. (THW = This House Would)

If you’re interested, here is a link to 100 interesting motions that students can debate.

I should note here that I believe debating works best when you have taught a unit, and set up a debate based upon that unit, rather than letting students run too free with a random motion and a search engine. E.g. when teaching the Romans, set up a debate ‘THBT the main factor in the fall of the Roman Empire was…’ The motions above are more useful for a debating club.

Students are split into ‘affirmative’ and ‘negative’ teams. Each team has 3 speakers, and sometimes one extra person to research. The researcher does not take part in the debate. Having a researcher is sometimes useful for easing students in when they lack confidence; however, students do also claim this role when they can’t be bothered, so you have to watch out for that!

Affirmative speaks first, then negative, then back to affirmative etc. Each speech is 3 minutes long, and after 30 seconds, the opposing team can raise ‘points of information’, which should challenge the speaker. The speaker can choose to accept or reject points of information. In their speeches, the students must discuss their ideas, and attempt to rebut the arguments posed by the other team.

Debates can be ‘open house’, where the whole class can offer ‘points of information’, or ‘closed house’, where only the opposing team are permitted to raise ‘points of information’.

Here is a score sheet that the adjudicator can use. I often create a panel of adjudicators, including myself, as this is a valuable opportunity for peer assessment of speaking and listening skills.

Why is debating so valuable?

  1.       Speaking and listening.

As Sarah Barker explained in her recent (and brilliant) TES article, speaking and listening is a whole school responsibility because it underpins everything we do in schools. Listening is not a skill that should be taken for granted, it requires practice and refinement in order to select relevant and useful information.

Debating helps students to listen very carefully to the information relayed by speakers, so that they can challenge it in a point of information. These quick responses show teachers how well/accurately a student has listened to, and understood information. Although intimidating at first, speaking in front of their peers over time will help students to practice core public speaking skills such as audibility, intelligibility, and the use of rhetoric to engage and intrigue the audience.

  1.       The power of knowledge and curiosity.

Perhaps the biggest question in education today is what should we teach? Of course, we are bound by the National Curriculum; however, through practicing speaking and listening skills, debating opens up a world of knowledge that we would not normally be able to expose to our students. Students are able to ‘get their teeth’ into a plethora of contemporary issues and wider philosophical ideas through the independent research that they carry out in preparation for a debate.

I once adjudicated a debate where the motion was ‘THBT Amazon is a pernicious influence’. At first I wasn’t sure of the appropriateness of the topic, as initially it seemed rather dull. However, I was quickly proved wrong. The students produced erudite speeches based upon in-depth research into the practices of Amazon, learnt a huge amount about the marketplace, author’s rights and so on. We can never accurately predict when, or how such knowledge will be useful for students, but we do know that general knowledge is incredibly useful in all aspects of life. Debating also sparks student’s curiosity in a wide range of topics, giving them an idea of where their interests lie. My Year 7 class recently debated THW keep the jury, and they were absolutely fascinated by the law and how juries work. Many of them left the room convinced that they would choose law at A-level in 5 years’ time!

  1.       The ability to evaluate.

The word ‘evaluate’ tends to make me recoil somewhat. In my PGCE, I didn’t really understand what it meant. This confusion was compounded by exam board definitions, which seemed to contradict Mr Bloom, and my further cloud my own inchoate understanding. However, practicing debating has helped me to understand the word.

Debating naturally engages students in the process of evaluating; the students assess the validity of each other’s arguments, and get the opportunity to consider an idea from multiple perspectives in order to reach a conclusion. Regardless of whether they are placed on the affirmative or negative team, they will naturally reach their own conclusion in a debate – they just have to play their part accordingly.

  1.       The ability to structure arguments.

Teaching students to structure their work is notoriously difficult. Debating, however, is a solution. Students select their main points, and begin searching for evidence and examples for which to qualify their arguments. It’s basically a way to show them how to use PEE in a real life, genuine context. The most cogent and convincing arguments I have witnessed from students have arisen in the debating process.

  1.       Providing motivation and a genuine context for learning.

That’s another great thing: preparing for a debate provides a genuine context for learning. Students have a real, tangible reason to do something. I facilitated a debate about whether Romeo was genuine (THBT Romeo’s affections are sincere), where students had to refer to evidence from the play. Great revision and great motivation.

  1.       Education in formality and etiquette.

We all have high aspirations for our students, so it is just that we give them the opportunity to engage in highly formal practices. Oxford style debating ought not to be left to private schools.

Debating is all about style and, in my experience, students have absolutely loved playing the part of the ‘speaker’. In rejecting a point of information, they relish getting to say ‘please sit down sir’, or ‘I really fail to see the relevance of your point’ to a classmate. Understanding how debating is used in Parliament and Oxford gives the students a window into a historical and different way of exploring ideas. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic here, but I do believe that teaching students how to debate formally helps them to acquire the manners required in the world of academia; it helps them to become logical, thoughtful and pragmatic people. I’m not necessarily advocating the formal style, but it is only fair that all students get the opportunity to witness and participate in it, if only to purposefully flout it in the future!

  1.       Teamwork

Yep – that’s lovely too. Grouping kids that don’t normally work together. The satisfaction and friendship bonds that are formed through working hard at something in a team. I don’t need to explain this one.

Give it a try!

If your school doesn’t already use formal debating, I would urge you to give it a go! And not just in English, although it is my favourite way to assess speaking and listening. Debating is for everyone – logical, scholarly, fun. 

Contact me @Miss_E_Miller if you have any questions.

 

 

In Praise of Complex Terminology

Disclaimer – nothing in this blog is new or original! Just my own musings… as usual.

Like many other English teachers before me, I read Mark Forsyth’s ‘Elements of Eloquence’ in my training year. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Elements-Eloquence-Perfect-English-Phrase/1848316216) At the beginning of last term, I reread it. As a trainee, I was utterly convinced that teaching English was skills, skills, skills. Nothing but skills. This wasn’t anyone’s fault – I just got it into my head. So, despite being amused by Forsyth’s book the first time around, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of knowing these elaborate and complex terms, and what relevance it was of to my day job. In fact, I rather snootily condemned the teaching of such terms as being indicative of educational peacocking; I’m ashamed to admit that I judged the use of them as a means to avoid the necessity to helping students learn those darn ‘skills’. How wrong I was!

So anyway, up there with joining Twitter, rereading Forsyth’s text turned out to be one of my (unknowingly) finest career choices. If you haven’t read it already, do! It’s full of wonderful and majestic literary terminology; some obscure, some we unknowingly use all of the time. You will quiver in awe as you encounter terms such as ‘epiplexis’. Each chapter unpicks a new device using a humourous tone and giving lots of examples of how, when and why it is used.

Following on from Forsyth’s brilliance, here are my top three reasons why I think complex subject terminology is one of the greatest things you can bring into your English classroom:

One – It’s satisfying. Delectable, in fact. It gives lower ability pupils something tangible to take from that lesson. Most pupils will be able to understand the meaning of a term, and then be able to identify the technique in a piece of writing. If a student doesn’t make enough ‘progress’ in the lesson, at least they can be sure that they have taken something new away from the lesson. Feel good factor.

Two – It forces pupils to consider the precise impact/effect of a writer’s technique. For example, I introduced a class to the four types of rhetorical question (epiplexis, anacoenosis, hypophora and anthypophora) because I wanted to guide them away from generic responses such as ‘the use of rhetorical question makes the reader feel like they are being spoken to directly‘. After learning the four variations (functions), pupils were providing much more detailed and specific comments about the use of rhetorical questions e.g. ‘The speaker’s rhetorical question functions as a call and response with their audience, which can feel empowering due to the feeling of being united with one another.’ Pupils were able to provide much clearer insights because understanding that there are four varieties, with four different purposes, showed them that the same generic response to the writer’s use of a rhetorical question is not really appropriate. Even if students do not remember the names of techniques, learning them helped them to understand that ther are a range of possible functions/effects and will make them more likely to carefully consider specific effects in the future and/or in an exam.

Three – Teaching such techniques improves outcomes in reading and writing. For example, I have found that teaching techniques such as anaphora and epistrophe during the study of poetry has had the most profound impact on students’ writing. Along with AFOREST techniques, I see my students adding in anaphora, epistrophe, isocolon etc. in their planning, which is wonderful. Use of such techniques adds a layer of sophistication, and conscious crafting, to their work. Structure seems to be something students struggle with a little more in their creative writing, and understanding techniques such as anaphora and epistrophe helps them to begin to structure their writing for effect. Glorious to see indeed!

I’ve attached some loosely planned lessons here that I often dip in and out of, as the occasion arises.

Please credit!

https://www.dropbox.com/s/36j6wsadzb5fn3b/Full%20subject%20terminology%20lessons.pptx?dl=0

The Importance of Connecting Things in English

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a teacher in possession of excellent subject knowledge, is the master of such knowledge because they are always seeking to expand upon it. I believe that, in English, excellent subject knowledge is not gained from reading more literature alone; it’s reading, writing, watching and listening to more, more, more! More of everything, across all disciplines. Strong subject knowledge is one thing. Strong subject knowledge plus the ability to connect your subject to other domains of knowledge, in order look at things differently and detect alterantive elements of significance, well that’s just about the best resource a teacher can have. IMHO.

I’ve never felt ‘smart’. I’ve always felt intimidated by the intellect of others, and these feelings did not disperse during, or after completing my degree. In fact, it probably worsened because I felt I should know and understand more. In reality, I was still scratching my head wondering if the USSR was a thing, an idea or a place. I guess I spent my education gathering lots of information about isolated texts, but was never trained to connect them and their ideas to anything bigger, due to never being presented with the historical or georgraphical knowledge to do so. I had the dots, but nothing, no background or wider knowledge, to join them up. English was a subject that I fell into, and I believe that’s because, fortunately, I’ve never really had a problem with understanding or producing language, which admittedly is a huge thing for which to be thankful. I am pleased to say that the demands of English in schools have increased significantly, and I love the historical content of the new courses; I believe they provide a much richer experience for students, if not ever so slightly too challenging for the time which we are given!
Since becoming a teacher, I have reflected upon the aforementioned insecurities a lot. I have concluded that the main problem with my education was a complete lack of chronological and geographical awareness. I was good at analysing texts in isolation, but really was quite clueless about the texts fit into their generic contexts; their social and historical contexts; how the texts were located in wider social or literary debates or artistic/social movements; why they would have been received and regarded in certain ways; and ultimately, what they really said about the world. But don’t you worry, I could definitely have told you why the writer chose to use a rhetorical question, and perhaps even the effect on an imperative!

In secondary school I remember wondering what came first, the the Tudors or Ancient Egypt. No joke. But when history isn’t a compulsory subject in secondary (it wasn’t when I was at school), and you’re taught great blocks of history at random in primary school, how are you supposed to realise that these periods are vast empires and continents apart? And even in University, I was still pretty vague on how we went from ancient civilizations in Europe, to peeing in the street again in the ‘dark ages’. In addition to this total lack of historical awareness, I also had no geographical sense. I think I can say with certainty, that I have spent more than half of my life believing that America is the biggest country in the world. Safe to say, with my complete lack of awareness of time/space, I am an excellent case in point for why students should not be given total autonomy over their option choices.

When I consider these gaping chasms in my knowledge, I am incredulous that I got so far in the study of literature. I think the only reason I scraped by was with a bit of historical knowledge gained in the English Language A-level. Now, I cannot imagine exploring a text without considering its relationship to context. I find I can only truly enjoy a text, if I know where it came from, why it was produced, the impact that it had on its society, and how it is reflects the period in which it is written, as well as other time periods.

Human history explores the symbiosis between how humanity has shaped the world and how it has shaped humanity. At its core, literature is about humanity trying to find itself in this strange, scary and wonderful world. To engage with the worlds constructed in literature, we must have an appreciation of the influences and forces that have shaped and reshaped the world, and our view of it, throughout time and space.

In order to ensure that my A-level students are prevented from suffering such woeful insecurities as mine, I am careful to provide them with a quick dose of European history, through the lens of social and artistic movements. Only when I planned to teach the Romantics, did I fully realise their significance in relation to Classical Antiquity, Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. At university, it was just Industrial Revolution. To me, the Industrial Revolution was why everything happened, ever. I am ardent in my belief that writers, and literature in general, cannot be understood without a broad knowledge of artistic and social movements over time, which have blended and culminated to set the climate for the text in question. Only with such geographical and historical awareness, can writers and their significance begin to be understood.

Below is a timeline that I use (recently amended a few sections, with thanks to @positivteacha and @prohistoricman), with various bits copied from a number of sources. I’m not pretending its perfect, in fact it is incredibly vague in relation to dates, and misses out an infinite amount more than it contains. It’s also generalisations central. However, I think it is valuable because it is a start. A means to connect things. It shows recurring trends, fashions and ideas across history. It bridges chunks of history, and gives an indication of the mood of each period, which is invaluable in discerning the meanings of texts. The aim isn’t for students to remember dates or specific events (although that would be fab.) It’s to get the students thinking changing cultures, emerging ideas, social movements, and how world views have been shaped and reshaped over time. It’s utterly fascinating to get students thinking about how and why we view events in history as we do due to how we have evolved.

The right hand side column also functions nicely as a wider reading/research list.

I’m happy to share – DM me if you would like a copy @Miss_E_Miller

Loving the Learning Scientists!

Let me start with a heartfelt lament: I WISH I HAD KNOWN ABOUT THE LEARNING SCIENTISTS LAST YEAR 😭

(http://www.learningscientists.org/)

Now, upon receiving my (ex) most dreaded question ‘how do I remember quotes?’ from a student, old me would blushed, said something forceful and firm about effort, and concluded with a hesitant summary along the lines of: “errrm, well, errr, you need to use flash cards and… little but often… and mix it all up a bit, change is as good as a rest, err, yeah that will work…” (plus various other aphorisms.) The truth is, teachers generally haven’t ever experienced much of a struggle in their subject areas, so it’s not really an obstacle that teachers have personal experience of overcoming (exceptions, of course.) I’ve always been aware of this, and feel that cognitive science studies have given me a way to truly understand how to train for exams.

After reading the blog posts from ResarchEd and having my attention directed to Learning Scientists, I know better. Or, at least, the scientific logic behind how to revise effectively. At long last, I can give proper advice that I believe in! And yes, I admit the baser part of my ego was delighting in the idea of stunning my students through the oh-so-casual use of terms such as ‘neural plasticity‘ and ‘dual coading‘, but that turned out to be a minor pleasure in comparison to feeling as though I was genuinely supporting my students to remember more… aaahh. Historically, scientific thinking and I have never proved particularly compatible; however, the Learning Scientists have helped me arrive at a long awaited eureka moment. And I mean long. I feel I can finally begin to make sense of how it is that one can accumulate, store and quickly access vast quantities of information in that slimy, blobby lump of grey matter that’s stored in the old headbox.

How will this help my teaching? That rather hefty volume of texts required at GCSE for a start… Again, Learning Scientists, I lament that I did not find you sooner.

So I started testing it all out on KS3. At my school, KS3 students complete fairly rigorous end of year examinations in each subject. This year, I thought I would put together some slides on the science/process of learning, in order to try and help my students to carry out effective revision. This was my first time referring to scientific evidence in in my attempts to teach how learning ‘works’, so I was rather nervous! However, it seemed to be well received by KS3 students. Phew!

Now, I am NO expert on this and certainly do not pretend to be! I let the Learning Scientists do the hard work for me and shared their videos on spaced practice and retrieval practice with my students. We then reviewed the slides I created below. The slides are directed at KS3 students, not researchers or experts in ‘neural plasticity‘. (See, there I go, ‘dropping it in’ again.) Also, I have cited all of the websites from which I have copied and pasted/gathered information.

Learning Scientist YouTube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjbAmxL6GZXiaoXuNE7cIYg

The students were immediately interested and motivated by the examples shared on the slides. A few of them had older siblings and were already hearing of the horrors of quotation retention at GCSE. They were enthusiastic to start working with flashcards in a more focused manner, and also to begin planning where and when they would be able to fit in 20 minute revision slots, along with when it would be appropriate to revisit certain topics (which pleased me enormously as it provided me with a chance to dazzle them by impressively dropping in another fancy term: interleaving.) We also discussed connecting ideas on the cards; considered how to revisit simpler revision cards and explored how to expand the knowledge upon them as well as connect them with other cards.

I placed particular emphasis upon how the skills in English (e.g. inference, analysis and comparison), along with subject terminology, will essentially remain the same throughout their time at school. As English teachers, I think we have all experienced how the grammar lessons we teach often seem to be forgotten year upon year, which I suppose is what happens when knowledge is taught in isolation and if it is reinforced in English lessons only. I was very pleased when students began to question whether you can really learn anything without practice, as this demonstrated their understanding of the importance of retrieval practice, and how it is their responsibility, as well as their teacher’s, to keep embedding previous knowledge.

Anywhoo, the students began to genuinely understand that cramming for end of year exams would ultimately only do them a disservice, as they would need to draw upon the same base of knowledge for their final school examinations; meaning that they may as well sustain practice via structured revision throughout their time at school. (A much preferable alternative to homework??) I believe this lesson fostered some extremely useful conversations regarding ‘learning how to learn’. (Everyone’s favourite example of polyptoton, no?) I’m confident that students left the lesson with an increased consciousness of the process of learning, and how they can best practice/learn independently.

So far, I focused mainly upon spaced practice and retrieval practice. This PPT is still a work in progress, but I am happy to share it when it is completed.

Up next: elaborate interrogation.

Thank you so much to everyone who shared slides/observations from ResearchEd!

Teaching Question 4 (Paper 2, AQA GCSE English Language) PART ONE

My initial approach to Question 4, Paper 2 was twofold:

  1. I wanted my students to have a secure understanding of the broad differences in attitudes between nineteenth century (C19) and twentieth/twenty-first century (C20-21);
  2. and I knew I needed to engage in some explicit vocabulary instruction, so that pupils would be able to attribute names to the conceptual differences between the time periods, and also have a bank of vocabulary which helps them to adequately describe the writers’ viewpoints/perspectives.

As an introduction to Question 4, I used a classic dictionary race to get students to define the following terms*:

  • Conservative
  • Liberal
  • Descriptive
  • Prosaic

Knowing the definitions of these concepts led nicely into a discussion whereby students were able to express ideas and share examples about what they would expect to find in older/modern texts. I really enjoy these discussions because of the cross-curricular links with history and politics and I’m always amazed by the knowledge and political insight of students when these discussions are facilitated. That being said, the discussion was lead quite heavily, and I prompted the discussion by considering the stylistic differences between Dickens and Priestley. We also considered potential differences relating to: the treatment of women; the illegality of homosexuality; the idea of empire and subsequent issues of race and culture; rigid social hierarchies; and finally it was interesting to discuss the extent to which these issues are still present in society today (and how such attitudes could be detected in texts.)

In order to reign this discussion back in, students completed a table where they noted ideas about what they would expect from C19/C20-21 texts (language and perspectives.) The table below doesn’t really do justice to the classroom discussion, (nor does it properly acknowledge the fluidity of concepts) but it should give an impression of the general conversations that took place.

Despite the boxing of the two time periods, students were warned that these were tentative predictions, and should not be applied to the texts in a blanket fashion – this was just a way to get thinking about potential differences.

Next, I gave the students this list:

We then turned our attention to thinking about writers’ perspectives upon the events that they describe. We explored two texts; a BBC news report on the famine in Sudan, and a journalist’s report on the famine in Ireland in the late 1840’s.

The single most important thing for students to be able to gauge more subtle perspectives seemed to be the ability to discern fact from opinion, and considering what perspectives are presented when opinions are presented as facts.

Students were able to discern that the journalist in the 1840’s used much more descriptive language, yet seemed far less emotionally attached to the events being described. Students were able to bring in some very interesting points about C19 inclinations towards social hierarchy and less compassion towards the poor, as they have witnessed in Dickens. In the 2008 news report, much more direct and factual language was used, including many more cultural references, and these language factors revealed the urgency of the situation and was indicative of how many people wanted to intervene and assist the situation. This meant that although the text seemed less compassionate on the surface, it actually contained much more sympathetic viewpoints. Students were able to make some valid points about direct language being appropriate for wider audiences and the need for newspapers to appear less biased and to continuously cite facts and statistics to prove events. Overall, students were able to use words such as ‘reserved’, ‘forward’, ‘detached’, ‘distant’, and ‘concerned’ to describe the writer’s perspective in relation to the events that they are describing.

*Note: students were warned against applying ‘conservative’ to C19 in a blanket fashion. They were made aware that the concepts in the introduction activity were not binary opposites, nor were they concretely attached to either time period. They simply opened up ideas/concepts to debate. 

Next post: the process of constructing comparative paragraphs for responding to this question.